Flame (Firefighters of Montana Book 5)

By: Victoria Purman



He pushed open the front door and looked into the big reception area. Nothing much had changed in the three months he’d been away. It felt good to be back. Dex had returned from Missoula with more experience, some tough jobs under his belt, and the strangest sense that he’d finally earned his place here on the crew. It had been a year since he’d been back in Montana, a year since he’d begun his training. Although he’d done a lot of different jobs in the years he’d been away—he worked construction in Colorado, spent a year on an oil rig in Texas, went back to what he knew on a ranch in Wyoming—and he’d learned to skydive in New Mexico for fun—being a smokejumper was new.

“Hey, Dex.” He looked to his left. Jacqui Edwards put down her cupcake, spilling crumbs all over the reception desk, and jumped up to throw her arms around him. There was a bark from under the desk and her dog, Muttley rounded it, sniffing Dex’s trousers, his tail sweeping from side to side.

“Hey, Jacqui,” he said, patting her companionably on the back as she held tight. Muttley barked excitedly, dancing around Dex’s feet.

Jacqui let go. “Oh, settle down.” She admonished and with the simple act of extending an index finger and pointing it at the hound, her dog quietened down and sat.

“Good to have you back, Dex. How was Missoula?”

He rubbed a hand over his hair. “Good.”

“Were you up there for that big one on Black Mountain?”

“Yeah.”

Jacqui’s voice quietened. “Oh, that was bad.”

“It was. How’s everything here?”

“Same old. It’s been a busy summer but not as busy as you were in Missoula, by the sounds. Your name’s not on the board today. You dropping off your gear?”

“Yeah. Better to have it here so it’s ready when I’m back on call.” Dex looked past Sam’s office to the locker room. “I hope there’s still a locker with my name on it.”

“Of course there is,” Jacqui punched his arm and chuckled. “You’re one of the crew now, rookie. Hey, since you’re here and you’re not on duty, can I ask you for a favor?”

“Sure.” Dex crouched down to ruffle Muttley’s ears. The dog closed his eyes and titled his head to the side, panting loudly and enjoying every scratch. “What do you need?”

“Once you’ve unpacked your gear, could you pick up an order for me on your way back through Glacier Creek?”

“Sure I can. Where from?”

“Cady’s Cakes,” Jacqui said, smiling. “She’s made a whole new batch of trail mix bars for the station. I need to get them in to the ration packs and since it’s quiet now, fingers crossed, I thought I might use this quiet time to get everything ready for the search and rescue season.”

“Sure.” Dex felt the tension in his jaw. “I’ll get my gear out of the truck, then I’ll head over.”

Muttley whimpered when Dex stood and stopped scratching the dog’s ear.

“Don’t leave it too long. You’ll want to get over there before closing time.”

As he walked back out to his truck, he tried not to notice that Jacqui was stifling a grin. He had the distinct feeling he was being set up.

*

Cady checked her watch, saw it was almost five. Two minutes to five in fact. She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, trying not to think about her aching feet or the tiny headache that had been pounding in her forehead for what seemed like hours. She was tired today, a little more than she usually was. Adrenalin and the business of her shop seemed to carry her though to closing most days, but not today. There was something on her mind, something that had flown in, landed there, and had been hanging on for dear life since she talked to Jacqui earlier that morning.

As she surveyed her now empty shop, she let out a deep breath thanked the angels—and her regular customers—for another successful day in Cady’s Cakes. And as she watched the cars drive by her front window, in what passed for rush hour in Glacier Creek, her mind drifted to the commemoration ceremony for Russ Edwards one week from today. She had already planned what she was going to bake for the gathering at The Drop Zone after. Three different kinds of bars, which she could make in the days leading up, and then a range of savoury muffins and different kinds of cupcakes. As she stood in the fading afternoon light, the shadows long in the street outside, she had an idea to decorate some of them the red, white and blue of Russ’s parachute. She bent over to grab a pen from the shelf under the counter—to write herself a note so she wouldn’t forget—when she heard the close rumble of a truck.

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